“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford
There’s a great deal of wisdom in this simple statement. I remember listening to my fourth grade teacher talking about how we could either allow obstacles keep us from doing well in school, or we could learn to overcome them. He was the first male teacher I ever had, and an imposing figure for a little kid. This lesson of “overcoming adversity” was not a one-time lesson, but rather a theme of his entire class. Even during a recreational game of kickball, adversity was not allowed to be a barrier. While my teacher was just reinforcing what my parents taught me, for some of my fellow students this was the first time they had been exposed to this very valuable lesson.
I had other teachers along the way that saw potential in students as well, and they were effective in making that potential apparent; these lessons were very important in my elementary school as many of the students lived in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Education was the best way to break the cycle of what — in some cases — was a history of poverty. I have little more than anecdotal evidence to show that this encouragement to overcome adversity paid off. What I can say about my fellow students from poorer upbringings — with whom I have remained contact over the years — are quite successful today. I believe that these teachings contributed to their success.
I’ve also seen other places that teach kids to understand that they have the means to overcome challenges. I’ve talked about The Shriners Hospitals previously, for example. Young patients at these hospitals are treated for orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal conditions as well as burns, spinal cord injuries, cleft lip and palate, and other very complex healthcare needs. Part of the treatment includes teaching the children that within them is the ability to overcome adversity. That race, color, socioeconomic background, and even significant health issues simply don’t stand in the way of their true potential. Seeing these kids go through their physical struggles, while still maintaining an incredibly positive attitude, is nothing short of a wonderful miracle.
The Boys and Girls Club is another organization that teaches kids to accept nothing less than reaching their full potential. This is done, in part, by teaching kids to take responsibility for their actions. Many of these young people have a difficult home life, and I’ve heard many of them speak on this. What always impresses me is how they have overcome difficult circumstances in their lives. Not only do they believe in themselves — but they want to show others how to succeed.
It seems that teaching the art of overcoming adversity is often replaced with laying blame — and even lashing out with violence — by people in less-than-perfect circumstances. Even worse, much of this behavior is not corrected. In some cases it is even encouraged by the very people that are responsible for raising and or teaching these same individuals. There is a great deal of noise that we are fed daily that emphasizes failure as an option. Why would anyone want to teach another person that they won’t succeed because of things like their race, color, creed, or a physical disability?
Frankly, it is because success isn’t easy. Teaching people how to overcome adversity takes effort. In fact, making people who face difficulties believe that everyone else is to blame is a very profitable business. Whereas helping people understand that challenges are not inadequacies takes effort, compassion, and time.
While I am mentioning blaming others, in this political season we’ll see a great deal of finger-pointing. There are many who try to condition us to think that politicians will make our life better, despite the fact this does not seem to translate to the real world.
The greatest investment any of us can make is in organizations that help people see their own potential — and how THEY can overcome challenges. We’ve probably all heard the phase “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” I understand and agree with the philosophy. I believe that many people feel that simply handing a fishing pole to someone equates to teaching them to fish. For someone who has never fished: it will take encouragement, patience, and time.
To the teachers, volunteers, medical workers, contributors, and others who are already helping others of all backgrounds to realize their true potential: I say thank you!